Kayla Morin-Riordan jokes that librarians are kind of like bartenders — minus the liquor.
She’s not wrong: Librarians often find themselves listening to people’s life stories and then connecting them with community resources. They facilitate programs designed to engage community conversations. They field complaints when people have them.
Morin-Riordan is a librarian at the Goodwin Library in her hometown of Farmington. She “grew up” in this library — and now oversees the children’s room and programs. She is also children’s librarian for the Madbury Public Library. Morin-Riordan, who holds a degree in social work, jumped at the chance to attend a training with New Hampshire Listens, designed to help librarians facilitate difficult conversations.
“Libraries are facing book challenges, program challenges — even questions about whether we should fund libraries,” Morin-Riordan said. She wanted to be prepared to navigate those conversations, and to facilitate conversations about local issues.
The role of libraries has evolved dramatically since the first free public library in the nation opened in Peterborough in 1833. But they remain common spaces, open to all. Morin-Riordan calls libraries “great equalizers” — where people are in community together despite whatever differences they might have.
“In a hyperpartisan time, our best hope for conversations across differences is in very local places in very public-serving locations,” said Michele HoltShannon, director of NH Listens. The sessions for librarians focused on facilitation skills — including how to manage conversations about complex topics among people whose perspectives and experience are different from one another’s.
For Morin-Riordan, those skills are an important part of her role as a steward of community health. “We’re all CPR-trained, too,” she said of her fellow librarians. It’s best to be prepared.